Gratitude originates from the Latin word gratus which means “thankful”. Thanksgiving Day is often viewed as a time of family gathering, the practice of conscious gratitude, and often overindulgence in food. What many people don’t realize is that the daily practice of conscious gratitude and thanksgiving has tangible health benefits.
Two psychologists, Dr. Robert Emmons and Dr. Michael McCullough looked at the role gratitude plays in physical and emotional well-being. They took three groups of volunteers and randomly assigned them to focus on one of three things. The first group was like the negative Nancys of this world, and they focused on everything that went wrong in their day. The second group, the positive Petes, honed in on situations for which they were grateful. The third group was like the mundane Marys and they recalled everyday events.
The results showed that the group that focused on gratitude was the happiest, most optimistic, least depressed, reported fewer negative physical symptoms such as headaches or colds, was more active, and seemed to have a greater enjoyment of life. Related studies have found other benefits such as clearer thinking, better resilience, higher immune response, less stress, longer lives, closer family ties, and greater sense of religion. All of these benefits could arguably be linked to having an attitude of gratitude.
Since we now know that there are benefits to being thankful, here are two simple ways to cultivate this attitude of gratitude. First get yourself a gratitude journal or list. Spend a few minutes at the start of your day listing 3 things that happened the previous day for which you are thankful as well as the 3 things you plan on achieving that day for which you are thankful in advance. This allows you to start your day being both thankful and hopeful, which is the most powerful way to start your day.
The Alphabet Game
Second, play the alphabet game. This is a game that you should play when all you want to do is throw yourself a pity party because you believe your life is lacking. Many times we have so much for which to be thankful, but we can’t seem to see it. This game changes the focus from lack to gratitude. Your goal is to find at least 10 things for which you are thankful. Start with the first letter of the alphabet and work your way down. For example, with the letter A, you may be thankful for the air you breathe, the working air conditioner on a hot day, your friend Annie who is supportive, apples that are on sale, or the vacation to Aruba 3 years ago that gave you great memories. Once you have exhausted A, move to B and so on. Within a few minutes of this game you will realize that you are truly blessed. This is also a great game to play with a child or a supportive loved one.
Since we now know that gratitude has health benefits, and we see it is easy to practice, let us use the momentum of Thanksgiving Day to cultivate a daily attitude of gratitude. Starting today, make everyday a Thanksgiving Day.